The transition to university can be every bit as challenging for parents as it is for the student setting of on their new adventure. Missing your child, the change in family dynamics, dealing with a time zone and long distance communication and no longer being part of their daily life is paradigm shift in parenting. Our Head of Education, Fiona Mckenzie reflects on how she felt as her 4 children went off to university and shares her advice for parents about managing the change.
As I watch this next generation of students head off to University, my sympathies as a parent lie with the mums and dads who are bidding their children a fond farewell, whilst trying to mask their anxieties about how their child will cope, will they make friends, how will they cook for themselves and will they settle so far from home?
Thinking back, I recall how we felt as parents as one by one our children flew the nest and went off to start their next educational adventure. At first I felt sad, I really missed them and their company but I was also proud of how they embraced the independence and made decisions about their futures and forged new friendships. I was also surprised at just how much they needed us still, regular phone and skype calls, whether it was about what to make with the contents of the student fridge that night or how to claim on insurance when your laptop has been nicked. I loved the fact that they used to send me essays to proof read – I would never have known about gift giving in different cultures if No 3 had not been studying Anthropology!
What advice would I give parents whose children are starting out at university?
1. You still need to be there for them. They still really need you despite the new found independence, in fact maybe because of it. They like to know that there is still the solid base of home to fall back on.
2. It is a transition phase for everyone and whilst they will be excited about what lies ahead, they will also be anxious about whether it will live up to their expectations.
3. Play down the “it will be the best years of your life”- the first few weeks, months can be tough sometimes and they may feel they are ‘failing’ if they are not enjoying every minute of it.
4. Learning to navigate their new freedoms can often lead to temporary disasters. You need to be there to listen and try not to judge, as they lick their wounds secure in the fact that although they may have made a massive fool of themselves in front of new friends, they are still safe and secure in the love of the family.
5. Beware of Week three - this is a classic time for new students to have a bit of a dip….. Fresher’s flu has kicked in, they are exhausted, the weather is getting autumnal, they are fed up of pizza, everything can seem a bit bleak and they just want to come home. Be there for them and advise them not to make any rash decisions until they are a bit more settled.
6. Tricky flat mates, grungy accommodation, struggling with the course – any combination of these can knock a child’s confidence and make them doubt they have made the right decision. Listen to them, back them but don’t try to solve it for them. It’s mostly just a question of time. They will make their own way through it and mostly it will work out fine. If it turns out to be the wrong course or the wrong Uni it is not the end of the world - there are always other options.
7. Some children find the change from a highly structured school environment to the university life of ‘work it out for yourselves’ a real challenge - be understanding but not interfering. Don’t forget you cannot ring up the university and ask for a report on your son or daughter – they are over 18 – the universities are not legally allowed to share information about them with you. This is definitely not school where you can book an appointment with the teacher to find out why they failed a test.
8. If you are missing the day to day contact with your children, give them a ring – they may not think it is cool to be calling home and they may be avoiding it if they are homesick. Let them know about the normal things that are going on at home – what the dog did today – Snapchat pictures of what you are all up to.
9. Try not to let them know how much you are missing them, you don’t want them to feel guilty about enjoying themselves whilst you are feeling miserable.
10. Try and keep yourself occupied, use the extra time to try new things.
What I have really learnt is that going to University does not mean they are leaving home. They are back every holidays and those summer breaks are very long! So whilst all four of the children are now in the world of work, they have all cycled back through home and spent some time living back with us. They are such great company, with their own ideas, views honed by study and the intellectual debate of their peers - they keep us on our toes and our fridge empty!